Arsenal’s away woes continued on Monday, as the north London club fell to Sheffield United by a thin margin of 1-0. The defeat dropped the Gunners just outside of an important top four place in the table, two points behind crosstown rivals Chelsea.
While previous issues with road trips over the last few seasons have surrounded around defensive frailties, Monday’s concerns were almost strictly down to creativity. Arsenal’s back four was sound for a vast majority of the night. In fact, the only real breakdown in defense was of course the goal. Conceded from a corner, youngster Matteo Guendouzi failed to leave his feet as Jack O’Connell found Lys Mousset for the easy tap-in.
On the other side of things, Sheffield United have been a very difficult team to score on during the current Premier League campaign. In fact, along with league-leading Liverpool, they have allowed the fewest goals in league play this season (7). Nevertheless, a top team with attacking players such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe, and Alexandre Lacazette should be scoring goals against a newly-promoted side.
Although the Gunners did have a few excellent chances to score on the night (Pepe and Dani Ceballos both missed big opportunities), this Arsenal team doesn’t particularly look fluid in attack. Long gone are the days of silky passing and jaw-dropping team goals under manager Arsene Wenger. Possibly the complete antithesis to the Frenchman, Unai Emery has utilized a different approach to this Arsenal side.
The Spanish head coach requests high energy from all of his players and play to run through his full backs and wide players. During the loss on Monday, Joe Willock managed just nine total passes from the number 10 position in the entire first half of the match. However, 57% (four of seven) of the team’s key passes came from their full backs. The lack of creativity, especially from the middle of the pitch, is something to be concerned about. While Arsenal have one of the most creative players of the last decade in Mesut Özil, Emery has chosen to freeze the German out of the team for much of the season.
Nevertheless, Emery’s job security most likely won’t come down to how ‘watchable’ his team is. Professional sports are ultimately about winning games and trophies. As Herm Edwards famously said, “you play to win the game.”
When Arsenal made their way up to third in the table by collecting points and winning close games, it didn’t matter how they looked on TV. Playing unattractive soccer is easier to take when the team is getting results. However, losing matches, especially while not being creative enough, is tough to take.
With so much of the season remaining on the schedule, most of Emery’s future at the club is surely dependent on where Arsenal finishes in the table. He has been given a talented group of players by the team’s brass and should be able to guide the Gunners safely into the top four by the time the current campaign ends. If he fails in this regard, Arsenal will almost certainly look elsewhere for a new head coach.
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